THE STORY OF AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHY: An Illustrated History for Young People by Martin W. Sandier

THE STORY OF AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHY: An Illustrated History for Young People

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A rich trove of photos and a plain, informative text--with the emphasis on the range of descriptive photography rather than the Big Museum Names. Indeed Sandier, author of The Way We Lived (1977) and well equipped to exploit this area, could have dispensed with the silly, demeaning claim that ""Americans have been at the forefront of every aspect of the story of photography"" to justify limiting his attention to the U.S. He is lucid on the early processes, their commercial applications, and their social implications (see his cartes de visite, theatrical cards, stereographs); he gives an extended account of Matthew Brady's career and the logistics of photographing the Civil War; and he is generous, too, in describing the work of the early photographers of the West, the first motion-studies of Muybridge and Eakins, and the popularization of picture-taking with the advent of the hand-held camera and the revolutionary Kodak. Documentary pioneers include not only Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine, Edward S. Curtis (Indians) and Arnold Genthe (San Francisco Chinese), but also such relative unknowns as Solomon Butcher (frontier Nebraska), Erwin Smith (cowboys), and Frances Benjamin Johnston (Hampton, Tuskegee, the rural South). And, under ""Other Masters,"" he brings to light Ulrich Bourgeois' creepy pictures of the Hermit of Mosquito Pond. A just representation is about the best one can say, however, for his treatment of the giants Stieglitz, Strand, Steichen, and Weston, while his attention to their present-day successors is cursory. And his aesthetic observations are banal throughout. But until the final wrap-up chapter, each photographer is represented by at least two and usually four or more photographs--with only one, or at most two, occupying a page. This in itself is exceptional in a general history, and well-suited to the inclinations of young people. They'll find the book suggestive and enlightening if not exactly stimulating.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1979
Publisher: Little, Brown